Blowing the cobwebs off antique furniture

BEIRUT: For anyone who has ever lifted the lid of a dusty, long-forgotten trunk and felt their pulse quicken imagining the treasures hidden inside, the Arc En Ciel Brocante in Damour has all the magic of rummaging with none of the mess.

The Brocante boasts two floors filled with heavy wooden chests, retro chairs, glamorous fringed couches, gilded mirrors and cleverly designed shelves the likes of which will not be found in Khoury Home, BHV or even Ouzai. Most of the pieces have been restored in the Brocante’s workshop, staffed by people with special needs or others with limited employment opportunities.

“We want to teach them something they can use later; They don’t have to stay with us,” explains Noel Azzi, one of the managers. “We have taught people carpentry, for example, and now they work someplace else.”

The shop depends entirely on donations for the furniture it resells. One room has been transformed into a classic study, complete with leather-bound tomes and an imposing desk (all for sale), thanks to an elderly lawyer who donated his entire office.

While the more expensive pieces are refurbished and sold at prices that are generally lower than Basta antique stores, much of the furniture goes to families in need.

Since it opened over three years ago, the Brocante has relied mostly on word of mouth and local press coverage to attract both customers and donations. Recently, however, the store started hosting regular events on the first Saturday of every month, featuring music, wine tasting, cheeses, fresh produce and homemade food products from Arc En Ciel’s agricultural coop, Wataneh, and its dairy farm in the Bekaa.

Beyond the tables, chairs and dressers, the Brocante is also home to the kind of unique pieces that attract history buffs and treasure-seekers alike. Spend a little time at the Brocante and you might stumble upon a giant wheat grinder, the kind that would have been pulled by a donkey or ox, a double-key safe, or a bound collection of An-Nahhar newspapers spanning the entire Civil War.

While the Brocante’s management is protective of the craftsmen’s privacy, they hope to show other employers and society at large that investing in marginalized or overlooked people can lead to a successful business: The Brocante brought in about $170,000 last year alone.

Talking about the Brocante’s hiring program, Azzi says: “The customers who come, they can see, they know and we tell them.” This way customers can see that Brocante’s employees “can be active in society, because it’s hard for them to find work. We are able to give them a minimum at least to live on.”

The workshop currently employs 45 people, who receive a monthly salary. The Brocante is just one program run by Arc En Ciel, a charity organization with centers nationwide.

For more information on the Brocante’s next event on Feb. 2, between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., or to donate, please call 05-602-642.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 22, 2013, on page 2.




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